Beachside sunrises, koalas and wine tasting

Trip Start May 29, 2010
Trip End Oct 09, 2010

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Various places with Lucy

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Friday, August 20, 2010

We were driving away our Jucy campa Lucy by 10am and headed South out of Sydney to Royal National Park stopping briefly for some breakfast at Kirrawee. The sun was shining and we knew we were in for some great scenery. Our first stop in the park was at the visitor centre to pick up our pass, the helpful lady didn’t charge us as we were only passing through so instead we made a donation. We made our way through the windy roads to Wattamolla beach, parked the campa and walked down the short path to the beach. There was an estuary feeding a small body of water which was pretty deep so after climbing over some of the rocks to get further out to the shallower water we took off our shoes and waded across. The water was flowing pretty quickly so we ended up getting a bit wet but the beach on the other side was secluded and well worth the paddle. We walked up and down the shore line and paddled in the freezing water then walked down to the inlet to see the small waterfall spilling over from the higher land where we had parked. It was really quiet and, had the water been warmer this would have been a great place to spend the day bathing. We had a lot of driving to do before we would reach our planned destination so we made our way back to the car and after a quick stop at Garrie beach to watch the surfers we made our way to the forest walk.

The walk was about 6km and had been recommended by the lady at the visitor office, what she didn’t mention was that the path was very overgrown. This is our first time in Oz and we were both a bit jumpy at the prospect of stumbling upon spiders and snakes (Al less so was looking for funnel web holes), as we crouched to negotiate our way through the dense grass we emerged and decided to arm ourselves with a bush stick. It wouldn’t do a lot but at least if a snake fell on one of us we would have something to flick it off with!!

The forest felt was very isolated and the sounds of various birds and insects felt pretty alien to us - a bit different to being in the city. The forest in this national park had been almost completely decimated by a fire in 1994, 95% of the forest was burnt and it has taken a long time for that damage to be repaired. Some trees rely on fire to rejuvenate and it was obvious which of those they were, the inside of the tree is completely charred and burnt out but the outside, although burnt is thriving. The make up of the forest was completely transformed by the fire and those old trees are now surrounded by completely different species so it is a real mix of old and new.

We emerged from the walk at Lady Carrington Drive and realised we had done the walk the wrong way round - that’s why it had been so hilly and all the signs were hidden!

Back in Lucy we headed South in the direction of Woolongong, we stopped at Kiama to see the famous blowholes which at times can shoot up to 60m up into the air, we saw a few spurts but no more than a few metres or so,, it was still a good experience though.

We made our way to Gerringong where Jez had recommended a campsite and parked up for the night, our campa came with a DVD player so we watched two of the films we had picked up from the office which were totally bobbins, one was an early 90s film with Keifer Sutherland and Keanu Reeves called Brotherhood of Justice you would think given the names it would be a good film - nope, if you get the chance to watch it - don’t!

The next day we drove to Jervis Bay and stopped at Hyams Beach where the sand has a velvety feel and is perfect sparkling white, in fact one of the whitest sand beaches in the world. We stayed there for a few hours and kept our eyes out to sea as we had been told that a humpback mother and calf had been spotted in the bay. We didn’t see it but enjoyed the beach, it was sunny but the wind made it pretty cold though there were plenty of dog walkers out.

From there we decided to make our way North heading ultimately for Byron Bay, we took the scenic route up past Sydney and passed Nowra heading into Kangaroo Valley, it was early afternoon so we didn’t see any ‘roos but we stopped at a the Cambawerra lookout which has a stunning panoramic view of the coastline. There was EMT equipment up there which was giving Al a serious headache so after taking some photos and making lunch we got back on the road to Newcastle.

The tourist roads were slow going so, wary of the wildlife traffic that would start at dusk we stopped for the night at a place called Windsor, we didn’t want Lucy getting into a fight with any ‘roos - she wouldn’t win! We found a camping spot at the tourist information centre which was on the outskirts of the small town. After we had parked and started to make dinner we noticed that we had an air force runway across the road from us and a train line behind us! It was too late and too dark to drive on so we decided to live with it, after the rush hour traffic had died down the trains were pretty infrequent. Thankfully we didn’t have any landing planes rattling us awake but we did have a road train stop behind us to leave a trailer which was then picked up we presume by another vehicle, at 4am. After a cold and restless night we woke and decided to get straight to Newcastle staying on the tourist route. At a place called Wisemens Ferry we took a free ferry across to reach the river bank on the other side then continued on finally reaching Newcastle at 3pm.

We walked around a few beaches and then through the town gardens into the centre. We had read about a tower called Queen Elizabeth Wharf which was nicknamed ‘the giant penis’ due to its phallic shape we couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to climb it. We reached the top after 180 steps, at 43 metres we could see for 20kms overlooking the coast where we had been and where we were headed.

After walking around the town centre and some of the shops we got back in the campa and made our way to Anna’s Bay, when we reached the turn off we realised that the detour would be around an 80km round trip and that would leave us little time to reach our next destination of Port Macquarie so thought better of it. A few kilometres after we had rejoined the Pacific Highway the rear passenger tyre blew out, luckily Al heard it going and slowed down so when it burst we were already heading for the hard shoulder and stopped with no dramas.

After pulling the fridge out of the car we managed to get the spare tyre out from underneath and after a bit of searching found the jack. Al started to jack up the campa at the side of the very busy road - as the road trains passed the whole car rocked so Char took up the role of lookout to warn Al for large oncoming vehicles as he crouched by the campa. All was going well until the jack was fully extended and we realised that it was not nearly high enough, Al removed the flat tyre with difficulty and, placing the spare near the wheel rims it was clear that it was not going to fit. We were feeling pretty vulnerable where we were so Al put the flat tyre back on and backed up the car (slowly!) into a deeper shoulder of the road and turned it into a small lane to try and get some angle on the back tyre.

After jacking and removing the flat and trying the spare tyre again, that didn’t work, so we had to search around in the scrub land to find something thick and sturdy enough to place under the jack to get the campa high enough so we could replace the flat drive on. It was starting to get dark and cold and whilst we had plenty of food, drink and warm clothes we did not fancy spending the night on a motorway. We found some concrete and placed that under the jack which didn’t work then finally found some wood which had been dumped at the side of the road and broke it in half. Thankfully that worked and we got the spare tyre on and reloaded the campa, maybe wombles really do know best - making good use of the things that we find!

We were glad to be back on the road and stopped at the next service station which was a mock up of Uluru. Inside was a mish mash of all things random, we found a phone box to contact the hire company to sort out getting a new tyre and to tell them about our jack ingenuity which really should not have been necessary!

After getting the all clear to drive on we made our way North to Port Macquarie but decided to stop at Taree as it was dark and we started to see lots of road kill, we found a very unglamorous overnight parking site and bedded down for the night glad that we weren’t still stuck on the motorway!

The following day we drove to Port Macquarie (third port to be established on the Australian mainland in 1821 and was a penal colony for slack convicts who found the work in Sydney too easy) and arrived early enough to fit a full day of sights in. We called the hire company and arranged for our tyre to be replaced then walked out to the harbour. We had read about the peoples gallery where visitors make their own mark on the break wall, a 2km stretch heading out to sea. Al went to sort the campa and Char walked down taking photos of the mostly strange and personal artwork. Some were families making their mark and others memorials to people who had died and visited this spot in life. It is a cool idea, we should have something like that in a UK seaside town (maybe there is one already?).

Al returned from not managing to sort the campa as they didn’t have the right tyre and we made our way to a long awaited trip to the koala hospital on the outskirts of the town. The area used to have thriving community of koalas but bushfires, roads and expansion of the town is seriously impeding on their survival. The hospital is funded completely by charity with no grants and all staff are volunteers, the koalas are housed in large compounds and fenced in mainly to protect them whilst they are healing. On the day that we visited there were a number of koalas being treated, some of which had been brought in over the previous few days, the result of being hit by cars.

Many of the koalas visit the hospital throughout their lives for a number of ailments the most common being road traffic injuries and the effects of Chlamydia which is virulent throughout the population and creates eye and urinary tract infections and can be spread very easily. One of the oldest residents (and arguably the oldest koala in the world though the jury is out on that one) is Birthday Girl. She is 23 and has visited the hospital a number of times the first being when she was hit by a car in the 80’s. She was returned to the wild but returned a number of times after that suffering from arthritis caused by her original injury. They released her back a couple of times after that but her health diminished to such an extent that they decided to take her in permanently (like a koala old folks home), the last time she was recovered she had climbed a tree and her joints froze up so she was stuck up the tree for days before someone noticed her and called the hospital, they had to get a crane to rescue her.

There are some very sad but also happy stories about various koalas rescued from bushfires and the horrific injuries they suffer. Many of the koalas survive but their long term health is seriously affected and as a result and they live much shorter lives. There was one really sweet koala in there called Bea, she had been taken in after falling onto some rocks. She was very young and needed round the clock care so fostered out to a full time volunteer carer while she recovered. She took a lot longer to respond to any treatment and the sustained human contact made it very hard to release her to the wild. She clung to her foster mum like a baby and they have tried over several months to get her back into the hospital recovery area which is the next step to releasing her to the wild but each time she refuses to eat and her health diminishes. She is fed a dietary supplement from a syringe by the volunteers and she tries to drop the syringe so the keeper will get close to her so she can hug them! It is really cute but the keepers have to keep their distance if she has any chance of remaining wild. We left the hospital with a warm feeling inside and made a note to look out for koalas crossing the road at dusk.

We met a couple in the car park who had been traveling for months and had been to India and Asia before coming to Australia, they had a Jucy too so we swapped our DVDs and e-mail addresses so they could give us some tips on SE Asia.

We decided to make our way to Coffs Harbour that evening so we could spend a few days there and though it meant driving in the dark, the highway was lit so we hoped the risk of bumping into wildlife would be reduced. We arrived unscathed and found a great camping spot overlooking the beach at Macauleys Head. It was a fab spot and though a little cold early morning we really appreciated the view when we woke.

We spent the next few days in finding our way around Coffs Harbour, used their swimming pool (as the sea really was too cold) and visited all of the beaches. We even fitted in a spot of sunbathing and Al achieved a record of 1 hour and 30 minutes lying still to sunbathe though Char had to speak to him the whole time to keep him occupied.

We visited the marina with its famous fish market (which is in turmoil due to the recent restrictions placed on prawn and certain fish by the Australian government) but does a cracking fish and chips, though the chips still don’t come near to chippy tarka! We walked to mutton bird island, a protected reserve and saw dolphins playing out to sea. We didn’t see any whales though it was prime time to spot the migrating animals passing but we did see a snake in the grass in the way back digesting a very recent meal which looked to be bird shaped sitting in its throat!

Coffs Harbour was named Banana Republic by the then Prime Minister, and the large banana sculpture on the outskirts of town is a big tourist attraction. It is entirely random so we naturally took a drive out to have our picture taken with it!

We left after a few restful days and headed South to Sydney and to catch our next flight to Perth, we had a quick stop at a pie shop ’Fredos’ famous for its Marilyn Monroe statues outside and for its exotic pie fillings including, crocodile, kangaroo and emu. It was far too early for pies so we took a few pics and carried on driving. We arrived at Cessnoc, at the centre of the Hunter Valley wine region at 1pm and arranged to meet Jez later in the day. We toured around a few of the wineries and tasted a good few wines and made some purchases before making our way back to the visitor centre to meet Jez.

We made our way to Broke where a camping area had been recommended and after eating in the one and only food establishment in the area we bought some wine and made our way back to the campas. We found a nice spot in a wooded area well away from the road. We spent the night chatting and drinking wine before going to bed very late.

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